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Environmentalists Push for Fracking Ban in New York

A group of more than 40 environmental organizations, including the National Resources Defense Council, Delaware Riverkeeper Network and the Atlantic Chapter of the Sierra Club, is calling on the New York State Assembly to approve legislation that would place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the state's Marcellus and Utica shales until May 15, which is when further environmental studies by the Environmental Protection Agency are expected to be completed.

The legislation is a job-killer, according to the Independent Oil & Gas Association of New York (IOGA).

"This bill, as written, could negatively impact more than 300 employers and jeopardize the jobs of more than 5,000 industry workers across the state," IOGA said.

In states where fracking and horizontal drilling are already in use, "severe water quality, air quality and health impacts have been documented," the environmental organizations said in a letter sent to Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York State Assembly.

"This bill [A11443] will give New York more time to thoroughly review this issue and develop more protective practices," according to the group, which said the incoming governor and his administration would gain "an opportunity for a fresh look at the serious issues surrounding natural gas development" though the temporary moratorium.

One of the environmental organizations, Working Families Party, said it expected to present lawmakers with a petition supporting passage of the bill signed by 50,000 New Yorkers.

The New York Senate in August approved the temporary drilling ban by a vote of 49-9 (see Daily GPI, Aug. 5).

The New York State Assembly's 2010 regular session ended in June. Gov. David Paterson, who leaves office at the end of the month, ordered the legislators back into special session beginning Monday in an effort to close a $315 million budget deficit. While the fracking moratorium legislation is not scheduled to come to the floor for a vote, lawmakers could decide to return to regular session and take up the issue.

Following the Nov. 2 election, Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo signaled that he may not approve the use of fracking in the Marcellus Shale until "bona fide studies" indicate that it can be done safely (see Shale Daily, Nov. 23). Attorney General-elect Eric Schneiderman has said he would file a lawsuit to stop drillers from fracking wells until the "process is proven safe."

New York has been operating under a de facto moratorium on drilling for more than two years. In July 2008 Paterson directed the state's Department of Environmental Conservation to prepare a supplemental generic environmental impact statement (SGEIS), effectively placing a moratorium on much of the Marcellus development in the state (see Daily GPI, July 28, 2008). The SGEIS was requested because the original generic environmental impact statement was completed in 1992, before current shale development technology was on the table. The SGEIS is not expected to be completed until next year (see Shale Daily, Oct. 13).

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